We all have that friend who complains that Video Games have collectively gotten way too easy since the earlier generations. This same friend usually has an entire stockpile of classic gaming consoles readily at his/her disposal. Their top 10 games are all from the pre-N64 days and not one current gen game lives up to it’s hype in this friends eyes. The belief is that game developers tailor to the casuals, and shun the hardcore, forcing them to relive the glory days of gaming to endure any bit of challenge. Do developers really cater to casual players? Are older generations of games really harder then the current options? Lets take a look at some of the reasons one might believe gaming has become too soft, and determine if that makes the game easier, or just better developed.
One reason newer games could be viewed as easier is the fact that strategy guides for every and any game are available with relative ease. So when I pick up Modern Warfare 7 and can’t get past the first level, I simply grab my phone and Google for help. Within a minute I have access to detailed info on how to circumvent some tough enemies, and get the best vantage point. Now remember picking up Sonic The Hedgehog 2, and the accompanying strategy guide? No? How about the guide for Gauntlet, or Contra? Sure they’re available now, but when they were first released all you could do was hope some friends were subscribed to a gaming magazine, and that said magazine posted some cool cheats for games. Does this mean that developers have made games easier? No. It just means that times have changed, as has the industry. We now have access to the official strategy guide, and various websites with walkthroughs and optimal builds to help us out. It’s up to each gamer as an individual to decide on whether they need the help or not.
If we look at Auto Saves we can easily see a mechanic that “makes games easier.” At the same time we see a mechanic that just felt like the right path for gaming evolution. Super Mario Bros. and Sonic The Hedgehog didn’t implement saves at all, and as a result we received tons of replay-ability out of those games. However, as games evolved, so did the level and content structure. Fewer games implement 3-5 minute levels, and more now offer longer and more engaging experiences. Imagine playing a current Shooter, with levels that can take upwards of 1 hour to complete, without an Auto Save function. It’s one thing to lose while playing a level for 3-5 minutes, but to lose after 45 minutes and have to start form the beginning is just poor design! This category falls into the same boat as the last. Auto Saves don’t make games easier, they’re just the difference between good and bad design. And if they bother you, you can always turn them off.
In Game Tutorials
I can’t imagine a game without a tutorial anymore. If we look back as recent as last gen titles we see games that lacked proper direction and tutorials. The first time I turned on Final Fantasy Tactics I turned it off, because I had no idea what to do. Now a days most games start off with an intro level, or offer and in game guide to help instruct you to the best play structure. I will have to say this, indeed, does make a games easier. This is in no way a bad thing, it helps make the games more accessible to player who might normally turn the other way. So yeah, it’s both a great design decision, and a feature that makes games easier.
This is a trend we’ve seen a lot with current generation games. The hero is near death, hiding behind a pillar, shuddering at the sound of every bullet flying toward him when magically all of his bullet wounds heal up and he’s ready to go again. Now sure, the idea of someone running up to a floating square with a red cross on it seems equally as absurd, it forced players to manage their resources and not run in to a situation they couldn’t handle because if they hide for a few seconds their mistakes are wiped away. Yeah, while a cool design decision, it makes games way easier! I challenge any MW3 or BF3 player to play Resistance 3, there’s no regenerating here! And it shows in the difficulty!
Lastly we’ll look at difficulty modes. These have been around for a long time! But the good ol’ classics didn’t have these choices. No difficulty settings existed in Metroid, Mega Man, Super Mario Bros., Final Fantasy, or Legend of Zelda games at all! You look at any current gen game and you have anywhere from 3 to 5 difficulty settings! Most games tend to have 4: Easy, Normal, Hard, Very Hard- with Default being Normal. Some even include a Very Easy mode! Again, this falls to the accessibility category. Yes, by definition this makes the games easier, however the player is free to choose the difficulty that best suits them. By no means is this meant to make games easier in general, rather it’s intended purpose is to make the games more accessible.
These are just some of the reasons gamers believe video games as a whole have become easier then in previous generations. However, we can easily determine that every design choice, and other advancements, have a significant role in expanding the gaming market to a broader audience. While this may make the default selections for games cater to casual players, it does not mean that those are the only selections and options available. In this case Accessibility has been confused with Difficulty, and it’s up to the individual gamer to decide weather to change the options for themselves or, to leave them at the developers definition of “Normal.”